Regarding the story “U.S. military restricts travel and bans drinking after fatal Okinawa traffic accident” in the Nov. 21 edition, in 1961, I was stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa for three months and was then transferred to the receiver site on Iejima, where I served for 11 months.
In the 14 months that I was stationed in the Ryukyu Islands (then occupied by the United States), I tried to be respectful of the Ryukyu people, and tried to not disgrace myself, or the United States, in their eyes.
Considering how young I was, I think that I did very well.
I think that the vast majority of the American men and women who are stationed in Japan try as hard as I did, but there are always “a few bad apples in every barrel,” as we say here in America.
One time, in a pawnshop in Koza (now the city of Okinawa), I witnessed an airman being extremely abusive to the pawnbroker. When the airman left the pawnshop, I apologized.
The pawnbroker said, “Why you sorry? Some GI No. 10, some GI No. 1, some GI 50-50, just like Okinawa people.”
What happened in Naha is tragic, but punishing every U.S. serviceman and servicewoman stationed in Japan, as the U.S. military has done, is a travesty, because the bad apples will climb out of the barrels and do what they do, no matter how harshly the U.S. military treats the people who obey the rules.
And so, what to do? Well, first, enforce the rules. Second, make those rules simple enough that a 21-year-old kid can understand them. Third, allow zero exceptions. One strike and the bad apple is out!
Fourth, if the offense is a felony per Japanese law, then turn the bad apple over to the Japanese authorities, on the spot.
And finally, teach U.S. military personnel the history of Japan and of the Ryukyu Islands, about the culture of Japan and of the Ryukyu Islands, and require all U.S. military personnel to become conversational in Japanese, so they can actually get to know the people they are there to protect.
One thing is for sure, unless the world situation changes for the better, the U.S. military is going to be in Japan and in the Ryukyu Islands.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.